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Of the Utility of the Philosophy of the Human Mind.
IT has been often remarked, that there is a mu. tual connexion between the different arts and sciences, and that the improvements which are made in one branch of human knowledge, frequently throw light on others, to which it has apparently a very remote relation. The modern discoveries in astronomy, and in pure mathematics, have contributed to bring the art of navigation to a degree of perfection formerly unknown. The rapid progress which has been lately made in astronomy, anatomy, and botany, has been chiefly owing to the aid which these sciences have received from the art of the optician,
Although, however, the different departments of science and of art mutually reflect light on each oth er, it is not always necessary either for the philosopher or the artist to aim at the acquisition of general knowledge. Both of them may safely take many principles for granted, without being able to demonItrate their truth. A seaman, though ignorant of mathematics, inay apply, with correctness and dexterity, the rules for finding the longitude : An aftronomer, or a botanist, though ignorant of optics, may avail himself of the use of the telescope, or the microscope.
These observations are daily exemplified in the case of the artist; who has feldom either inclination or leisure to fpeculate concerning the principles of
It is rarely, however, we meet with a man of science, who has confined his studies wholly to one branch of knowledge That curiosity, which he has been accustomed to indulge in the course of his favorite pursuit, will naturally extend itself to every remarkable object which falls under his observation ; and can scarcely fail to be a fource of perpetual diffatisfaction to his mind, till it has been fo far gratified as tv enable him to explain all the various phenomena, which his professional liabits are every day presenting to his view.
As every particular science is in this manner connected with others, to which it naturally directs the attention, fo all the pursuits of life, whether they terminate in fpeculation or action, are connected with that general science, which has the human mind for its object. The powers of the understanding are initruments which all men employ; and his curiofi. ty must be small indeed, who passes through life in a total ignorance of faculties, which his wants and necessities force him habitually to exercise, and which fo remarkably diftinguish man from the lower animals. The active principies of our nature, which, by their various modifications and combinations, give
rise to all the moral differences among men, are fitced, in a ftill higher degree, if possible, to interest those, who are either disposed to reflect on their own characters, or to observe, with attention, the characters of others. The phenomena resulting from these faculties and principles of the mind, are every moment foliciting our notice; and open to our examination, a field of discovery, as inexhaustible as the phenomena of the material world; and exhibiting not less striking marks of divine wisdom.
While all the sciences, and all the pursuits of life, have this common tendency to lead our inquiries to the philosophy of the human nature, this last branch of knowledge borrows its principles from no other science whatever. Hence there is fomething in the ftudy of it, which is peculiarly gratifying to a reflecting and inquisitive mind; and something in the conclufions to which it leads, on which the mind refts with peculiar satisfaction. Till once our opinions are in fome degree fixed with respect to it, we abandon ourselves, with reluctance, to particular scientific in. vestigations ; and on the other hand, a general knowledge of such of its principles as are molt fitted to excite the curiosity, not only prepares us for engaging in other pursuits with more liberal and comprehensive views, but leaves us at liberty to prose. cute them with a more undivided and concentrated attention.
It is not, however, merely as a subject of speculative curiosity, that the principles of the human mind deserve a careful examination. The advantages to be expected from a successful analysis of it are various; and some of them of such importance, as to render it astonishing, that, amidst all the success with which the fubordinate fciences have been cultivated, this, which comprehends the principles of all of them, should be still suffered to remain in its infancy. • I shall endeavor to illustrate a few of these advantages, beginning with what appears to me to be the most important of any ; the light, which a philofophical analysis of the principles of the mind would necessarily throw, on the subjects of intellectual and moral education..
The most essential objects of education are the two following : Firit, to cultivate all the various principles of our nature, both speculative and active, in such a manner as to bring them to the greatest perfection of which they are susceptible; and, Secondly, by watching over the impressions and affociations which the mind receives in early life, to secure it against the influence of prevailing errors ; and, as far as possible, to engage its prepoffefsions on the fide of truth. It is only upon a philosophical analysis of the mind, that a systematical plan can be founded, for the accomplishment of either of these purposes. There are few individuals, whose education has
been conducted in every respect with attention and judgment. Almost every man of reflection is con. fcious, when he arrives at maturity, of many defects in his mental powers ; and of many inconvenient habits, which might have been prevented or reme. died in his infancy or youth. Such a consciousness is the first step towards improvement ; and the perfon who feels it, if he is pofsefsed of resolution and steadiness, will not scruple to begin, even in advan. ced years, a new course of education for himself. The degree of reflection and observation, indeed, which is necessary for this purpose, cannot be expect. ed from any one at a very early period of life, as. these are the loft powers of the
mind which unfold themselves; but it is never too late to think of the improvement of our faculties ; and much progress may be made, in the art of applying them successfully to their proper objects, or in obviating the inconveniencies resulting from their imperfection, not only in manhood, but in old age.
It is not, however, to the mistakes of our early in. structors, that all our intellectual defects are to be ascribed. There is no profession or pursuit which has not habits peculiar to itself; and which does not leave some powers of the mind dormant, while it exercises and improves the rest. If we wish, therefore, to cultivate the mind to the extent of its capaci. ty, we must not rest satisfied with that employment which its faculties receive from our particular fituation in life. It is not in the awkward and professional form of a mechanic, who has strengthened particular muscles of his body by the habits of his trade, that we are to look for the perfection of our aniinal nature : neither is it among men of confined pursuits, whether fpeculative or active, that we are to expect to find the human mind in its highest state of cultivation. A variety of exercises is necessary to preserve the animal frame in vigour and beauty; and
a variety of those occupations which literature and science afford, added to a promiscuous intercourse with the world, in the habits of conversation and bu. finess, is no less necessary for the improvement of the understanding. I acknowledge, that there are fome professions, in which a man of very confined acqui. fitions may arrive at the first eminence; and in which he will perhaps be the more likely to excel, the more he has concentrated the whole force of his mind to one particular object. But such a person, however distinguished in his own sphere, is educated merely to be a literary artisan ; and neither attains the perfection, nor the happiness of his nature. “That “ education only can be considered as complete and
generous, which” (in the language of Milton) “ fits a man to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimoufly, all the offices, both private and public, of peace, and of war*."
I hope it will not be fuppofed, from the foregoing observations, that they are meant to recommend an indiscriminate attention to all the objects of specula. tion and of action. Nothing can be more evident, than the necessity of limiting the field of our exertion, if we wish to benefit fociety by our labours. But it is perfectly consistent with the most intense application to our favourite pursuit, to cultivate that general acquaintance with letters and with the world, which
may be sufficient to enlarge the mind, and to preferve it from any danger of contracting the pe. dantry of a particular profession. In many cases, (as was already remarked,) the sciences reflect light on each other; and the general acquisitions which we have made in other pursuits, may furnish us with useful helps for the farther prosecution of our own. But even in those instances in which the case is oth erwise, and in which these liberal accomplishments must be purchased by the facrifice of a part of our
* Tractate of Education,